Although nominally a highway, California Route 150 — the road which passes by the campus of Thomas Aquinas College — is hardly a bustling thoroughfare. Its winding two lanes, connecting the cities of Santa Paula and Ojai, are lined by oak trees, family farms, and the occasional country market. It is not the place one expects to encounter a motorcade of brightly polished Porsches. Yet such was the case one day last fall.
That morning some 24 members of the Porsche Club of America’s Santa Barbara chapter made the 50-mile drive to campus. What brought them to the College for a tour and a luncheon was not their shared passion for a particular make of European sports car, nor a burgeoning interest in Catholic higher education. Instead they were drawn by a stunning sight that they had previously seen only on weekend drives through the Ventura County countryside — a stately, 135-foot-high bell tower and a majestic, 89-foot dome, topped by gleaming crosses, rising above the arching oak trees.
Ever since its completion in 2009, Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel has served as a magnet, attracting to campus numerous admirers, often in large groups. The Porsche enthusiasts, like many other visitors, came to Thomas Aquinas College inspired by the Chapel’s beauty, and left enamored by the goodness and truth in the College’s program of Catholic liberal education.
An Inviting Presence
“When I first took the call from the Porsche Club, I though it was the Portia Club,” laughs Director of College Relations Anne S. Forsyth. Mrs. Forsyth could understand why a club with a Greek name would be interested in the College’s classical curriculum, but it was less clear to her, at least at first, why the representative of an automotive organization would be calling. As the conversation progressed, however, it all began to make sense. As it happened, Nicolas Liakis, president of the Porsche Club’s Santa Barbara chapter, is a former dean at New York City College who was aware of the unique nature of the College’s program and impressed by its excellence.
Having seen the Chapel from afar, his group’s members were intrigued. “Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel has drawn visitors of all kinds,” says Mrs. Forsyth. “We have had organizations of educators and architects come by, as well as Catholic groups and others you might expect, but also a wide range of organizations with no direct connection to the mission of the College. We have had fraternal organizations, members of other churches, people who often have had no exposure to the College other than having seen the Chapel from the road.”
As a result the College, which has long enjoyed a strong reputation nationally while remaining something of a hidden gem within its own region, is gaining a new level of prominence in Southern California. “We never anticipated this when we built the Chapel, but we probably should have,” Mrs. Forsyth adds. “Traditionally the purpose of a bell tower is to draw attention. The steeple announces this House of God and declares it the most important building in the area. Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel certainly does that on this campus, and the message is evidently traveling well beyond.”
Spreading the Word
Many of those who visit to see the Chapel — and all who come as a part of a larger group — arrange ahead of time for an overview of the campus, a tour of the Chapel, and occasionally a luncheon or a classroom visit. While they may have arrived knowing very little about the College, they depart with a great appreciation for its spirituality, its academics, and the moral and intellectual seriousness of its students.
For instance, the Porsche Club’s review of its visit, as described in its monthly magazine  (PDF), begins, “Located in a former cow pasture high in the hills above Santa Paula is one of our nation’s greatest learning institutions.” The review notes that the College’s students “are among the finest America has to offer. They will become leaders of academia, industry, law and other professions.”
The review concludes with this advisory: “Next time you drive on Hwy. 150 between Ojai and Santa Paula, you will notice the bell tower of the Chapel. Put it into your memory banks and be sure to arrange for a visit. You will certainly be impressed.”
For information about arranging a group visit to Thomas Aquinas College, please e-mail Mrs. Forsyth , or call 800–634–9797.
Posted: February 16, 2012